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Ash Wednesday 2011—Finding Dignity in Lent

  • Posted on Mar 9, 2011

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend youor hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Joel 2: 12-13

 I always breathe a sigh of relief when Ash Wednesday comes around once again. In the midst of a long winter, Ash Wednesday signals the start of a turning towards new life and birth. Although the time-honored phrase “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is a stark, haunting reminder of our mortality, Ash Wednesday begins the acknowledgement that even in the midst of death, we are called to live.

I have just returned from a conference with Episcopal clergy from around the country. Our main topic for the week was Dignity and Reconciliation. In our discussions of the word “dignity,” we realized that the word is often used to define a good death. We want for our loved ones and ourselves to die in dignity. At the time of death and at the funeral, we expect our loved one’s body and life to be treated with honor and respect….dignity. That is what the hospice movement is all about. However, it is also important to live with dignity. That is a bit harder to understand how to do.

The Litany of Penitence in the Book of Common Prayer (pp. 267-269) appointed for Ash Wednesday gives us a good idea where to start. The first petition is this:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

I would add one phrase to the petition. We have not loved our very selves with the love of the Creator.

Dignity starts with loving God and then loving ourselves as a child of God. For if we cannot honor ourselves as worthy of God’s love, it is near impossible to truly love and respect the dignity of every other human being in our world.

Today. Ash Wednesday, we remember we are but dust. We also remember that while we live, we are a precious child of God, entitled to dignity and honor.

So to Psalm 51 and 103, let’s add a verse from Psalm 139 this Ash Wednesday: While I live, I will thank you for I am marvelously made. Psalm 139: 13

This Ash Wednesday, thanks be to God that today, in the midst of death, we live. Let us live with dignity, honoring our lives and the lives of those around us. Amen.